New Species in the Outback

Earlier in the year, Dr. Hoskin, a professor from James Cook University, and Dr Laman, a National Geographic photographer, collaborated on an expedition to a remote mountain range on Cape York Peninsula in north-eastern Australia. This mountain range, the Melville Range, was an attractive location for exploration because of a rainforest that laid hidden atop its peaks. What makes this rain forest even better is the fact that it is geographically isolated from its surroundings. Evolution has occurred for millennia there without outside influence.

Funded by the National Geographic Expedition Council, they flew in by way of helicopter. No other means of transportation could have traversed the nine mile long field of granite boulders the size of cars and houses. Their adventures first brought them and a National Geographic film crew to an enormous flat boulder, perfect for a makeshift helicopter pad. The team departed their helicopter only to find that this boulder, which appeared very friendly when viewed from Google Earth, was actually quite tall. Unable to climb down the rock, they had to wait for their helicopter to return in an hour.

It was not until their second landing that the expedition began to get interesting. Bushwhacking through a boulder-strewn forest, they came across a new species of skink darting across the boulders. This skink, the Cape Melville shade skink, lives among the rocks and feeds off of insects. Unlike its brethren, the shade skink has very long limbs and “fingers.” One day later, the team found another undiscovered wonder, the blotched boulder frog. In order to thrive in an environment composed almost entirely of massive boulders, this frog developed certain traits and behaviors. During the dry season, the frog stays at the base of the boulders where it is cool and moist. During the wet season, it emerges on the top of the rocks. In order to see among the darkness of the rocks, it has developed large eyes that are more sensitive to light.

A Leaf-Tailed Gecko
Image from Wikimedia Commons

The final discovery occurred on the night of the frog find. Hoskin, on their trek back through the rain forest, spotted the reflection of a pair of eyes on a tree. Upon further inspection, he found that it was a strange looking gecko: a Cape Melville leaf-tailed gecko. While leaf-tailed geckos have been seen before, this one deems very interesting to science because it is a “relic from an earlier time.” Unlike its relatives, it has developed long legs like the skink and large eyes like the frog in order to better survive in this environment. Alongside these traits, it also possesses a large, leaf-like tail that almost gives it the appearance of a second head.

These discoveries pose an interesting question: “How much is there left to discover?” The interest of human-kind has shifted from frontier to frontier, all the way from the American west to space. While the focus of man certainly isn’t on the very land he inhabits, there is still much left to find on it. As this team has exemplified, one only has to know where to look.

About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

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